Lincoln’s Death, New Nation: April 1865 to 1877

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Who was the youngest person to serve in the Civil War?

He seems to have been Johnny Clem of Licking County, Ohio. Christened John Joseph Clem, he was born in August 1851 and was just under ten years of age when the war began. His mother died at about that time, and young Johnny Clem determined on a life of adventure. He was mustered into the 22nd Michigan on May 1, 1863.

Harper’s Weekly ran an image of Johnny Clem in February 1864, with the twelve-year-old boy wearing the uniform of a sergeant. He had a sad expression, but this was typical of many photographs and images from that time: nineteenth-century Americans did not “smile” for the camera in the style of their descendants. When the war was over, Johnny Clem petitioned President Grant, who made him a second lieutenant in the 24th U.S. Infantry. Clem lived to a ripe old age.


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